WASHINGTON (AP) — Exiled Chinese dissidents on Wednesday urged President-elect Donald Trump to champion human rights in China and recognize self-governing Taiwan as "a full democratic country."
Several former political prisoners spoke before at congressional commission days after Trump spoke by phone with Taiwan's president in defiance of decades of diplomatic convention. That has fueled speculation Trump could adopt a tougher American policy toward China although he has shown little interest in advocating for civil liberties in the communist-ruled nation.
Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled leader of the Muslim Uighur minority, told the hearing: "Any sign that the United States is ready to relinquish its commitment to raising human rights concerns in favor of achieving policy gains elsewhere will be a victory for China."
Yang Jianli, a veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square that were crushed by China, said Trump should focus on American values and "strike directly at the vulnerable spots of the regime to force China's democratic transition."
Yang advocated modification of U.S. policy on Taiwan "to reflect a full democratic country status and affirm its legitimacy by allowing Taiwan to be a normal member of the international community." That would imply a shift in the "one China" policy adhered to by Washington since it switched diplomatic recognition of China from the self-governing island of Taiwan to Beijing in 1979.
He also urged U.S. support for more democracy in Hong Kong, where critics say China has moved to erode the city's semi-autonomous status.
Yang has previously criticized Trump on China human rights issues.
In March, he co-authored a newspaper commentary faulting Trump for saying during a Republican presidential debate that "a strong, powerful government" had put down the Tiananmen Square protests. Trump said he didn't endorse the crackdown, but he did liken it to putting down a "riot."
Two Republican lawmakers also urged Trump to prioritize human rights in his China policy. Rep. Chris Smith said the new administration should "shine a bright line" on abuses, a sentiment echoed by Sen. Marco Rubio, who was a rival of Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
Rubio appeared to criticize Trump's pick for ambassador to China, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who has known Chinese President Xi Jinping for more than 30 years and has long promoted his state's trade with China. Rubio said the ambassador should reflect human rights priorities, "not simply someone who is going there to catch up with old friends."
Wei Jingsheng, who spent 18 years in Chinese prison for his democracy advocacy, urged the Trump administration to follow through on threats to impose trade tariffs on China, saying that the U.S. would win a trade war as China cannot risk losing its U.S. market.